Burson OpAmps: Let the fun begin!
Burson Audio, an Australian company, is known for making very good amps. The Soloist and Conductor are two that have sold very, very well. With the Play, the company went a slightly different route several years ago. One can certainly plug-and-play (pun intended), but for those who wish to fine tune, that is where the different Op-Amps come in. Something that many audiophiles are turning to. Personality of their own gear. I’m in, for the first time (and subsequent offerings x4). After the success of the Play (now Playmate), the Conductor series has been upgraded, and I can say that it is a superb line of DAC/Amps. A stellar addition to pretty much any desktop set up.
Coming on the heels of my Burson reviews of the Bang, Fun and Play, as well as having the Conductor 3XP currently on hand for an extended time, I was afforded the luxury of OpAmp rolling from Burson. Original model OpAmps came in all as well as the dual Vivid and Classic. This last part is more about the Vivid as it was sent separately, as well as having a set in the Conductor.
|Opamp Model||Design||Min Voltage||Max Voltage||Current Consumption||Unity Gain Stable||Reverse Voltage Protection|
|V4||Fully Discrete||±5V / 10VDC||± 20V / 40VDC||Single 20mA | Dual 40mA||Yes||No|
|V5i||Partial Discrete||±5V / 10VDC||± 16V / 32VDC||Single 5mA | Dual 10mA||Yes||No|
|V5||Fully Discrete||±3.5V /7 VDC||± 15V / 30VDC||Single 7mA | Dual 14mA||Yes||No|
|V6 Vivid||Fully Discrete||±3.5V / 7VDC||± 16.5V / 33VDC||Single 7mA | Dual 14mA||Yes||Yes|
|V6 Classic||Fully Discrete||±3.5V/ 7 VDC||± 16.5V / 33VDC||Single 7mA | Dual 14mA||Yes||Yes|
I will admit, I did not know much about Op-Amp rolling before reviewing the Burson products I have, but from what I had read, this is another way that manufacturers can “fine tune” the sound of their wares. This can be done readily by the user and can run from inexpensive to QUITE expensive. As the Play had at the time moved through several hands, Burson included the single Op-Amp Vivid module as well as the included Classic modules. You can go “as low” for the basic models, and purchase the modules separately, or opt for the higher line Classic or Vivid included options for many of the choices. There is of course more to the expensive versions than simple OpAmp changing but that is not the focus here. Ranging in price from $45 for the V5 “regular” to the $145 dual-Vivid affords many the option to get a basic unit and upgrade the OpAmp immediately. This can make for an extremely affordable killer of a unit. And it does.
From my readings (and experience), the Classic is tuned more towards a bass-oriented sound, with natural sound (and I concur) to back that line up. The Vivid provides a “livelier” analytical sound for those who wish. Coming with a 5-year warranty says something about the confidence Burson has in their product. Good for them.
Shanling M6 Pro
Cayin N6ii (E01 motherboard)
Burson Fun/Bang combo
Burson Conductor 3XP
ZMF Eikon (suede pads)
Empire Ears Legend X
Campfire Audio Cascade
Verum audio Verum 1
I will thusly admit that I was looking forward to rolling amps. This is a nice alternative to changing cables, or tip rolling; which allows the user to personalize or fine-tune to their desired sound. What I can say is that right now through my MacBook Pro using the Simgot EM5, on Damian Marley’s Here We Go, there is more than enough bass to satisfy me. I am not a basshead but do enjoy a nice rumble with my sound. I do like what the Burson has provided so far. Throw in that the OpAmps can be changed in about five minutes with the included tool and this makes for a no-brainer.
I will admit that for my original Burson review the vast majority of time, I had the Classic Op-Amps in. I enjoyed the bass note, which the Classic provided. Still with good detail, Damian Marley’s Medication sounded just as it should. Bass line to die for, cymbal detail of almost hissing quality (a good thing here…) and vocals, which were clear and prominent. This was becoming a nice treat from the get-go. This was not some shout in your face look what I can do amp. No, this was a well-played laid-back sound, which grew on me. That is part of the reason I am having a very hard time putting into words what I heard and felt. It just played, providing a solid enjoyable sound. For the Fun, I started with the Classic, and switched to the Vivid when sent using my ProAc Tablette Reference 8 Signature’s. The same emotive responses from the Play above were had with the Vivid in the Fun.
Detail of a higher order than the Classic (and meant to be), this to me almost defines what makes Burson, well, Burson. The Vivid is clean, clear and detailed with that vibrancy of sound, which seems to come from very high-end equipment. As Lieven describes the Conductor 3XP with Vivid V6 OpAmps in his excellent review, there is a “naturalness and cleanliness” to the sound, which includes excellent detail retrieval and resolution. I describe that sound as almost crystalline without the fragility wrought by that verbiage and hold to that. Combine both of our descriptors, and that defines not only the Conductor 3XP with the Vivid V6, but also if you will, the Burson “house sound.” Stellar detail retrieval that almost shocks you with the level of clarity wrought.
Switching to the Vivid was indeed a treat.
While providing me with that warmer sound of which I love, the detailed separation is not lost in that aspect when using the Classic, though. Touted in the gaming community for good reason, the Play with the Classic provided an excellent combination, which has received high acclaim from gamers. With the detail of Mark Knopfler’s drummer in Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes, it is clear to the point of almost hearing the air movement of drum stick. I exaggerate a bit, but it is quite nice. On par with my iFi Black Label, which coincidentally falls into the same price point (describing the Play again). I would point out that the Burson has decent enough treble for the audio enthusiast and gamer as well, using either OpAmp. That said, the Vivid just sings in the higher category. On Santana’s Primera Invasion, his ripping chords make for an intoxicating sound through the Conductor 3XP (w/ Vivid V6). Sublime and makes me want to melt. Superb.
Succinct, and accurate is what I would call that treble with the Classic on the other hand. Pleasant to my treble-sensitive ears. Want more? Switch to the Vivid Op Amp and you have it. Many a better ear than mine have espoused the virtues of the Vivid modules, and with what I could hear, I would agree. Changing is easy, except if you use the Play within your computer. That “lack of treble” to me in the Classic mode is all but thrown aside though, when Corazon Espinado comes through the Eikon from Santana. Superb male vocals highlight the song, with Carlo’s sumptuous guitar emanating from one’s ear. The support drum instrumentation providing that push up top to very acceptable levels in my mind. Just a superb rendition of a voluptuous song. The Eikon does approve.
OpAmp rolling is quick and easy with the included Allen Key. I listened to the included Basic OpAmp’s as well as the Vivid’s from my Burson Play. The Conductor 3XP came with the Vivid V6 installed. I did switch to my Classics from the Fun, and found the same results as with the Play. I prefer the perceived-warmer signature of the Vivid to the Classic, but the Basic (NE5543 X 2) sounded near-neutral and just fine. YMMV. I think it was actually that clarity, which allowed warmer-signatured songs to show through better on the Vivid than actually having warmer signature. Especially when it is noted that the Vivid is for superb detail retrieval. As a desktop amp, the ease of changing the OpAmps cannot be underestimated. Throw in the Bang, and you can essentially get a good set of combinations with which to play. Or spring for any from the Conductor series and you have a small footprint that is quite stylish as well.
*Dedicated OpAmp sound (from the Vivid V6 in the Fun, but holds for the Conductor 3XP as well):
To add to what is listed above, after Burson sent me the V6 dual Vivid pair for installation, I dedicated several hours using the same songs listed above (and same sources/gear) with the addition of a couple newcomers to my corral; the Sendy Aiva and the Verum Audio Verum 1 as well as the Phonic BW4 IEM. My initial usage of the Vivid OpAmps in the Burson Play allowed me a direct comparison between the Classic (more neutral, a bit less detail retrieval) and the Vivid (warmer, richer with a more detailed signature). In the Fun though, Burson included the Basic, to give me an impression of their “bottom-line” component. Using the V6 Vivid (again, single not double) added $140 to the cost, on par with the Basic Playmate and Play with V5 OpAmp options. A fair comparison in my opinion. Following this, Burson sent me the Bang to use in conjunction with the Fun for a complete comparison of the line-up as well as giving a good representation of the whole line. I used both the Classic and Vivid single (and double) in the duo. My favored was the newer to me Vivid dual, which added a bit of bass, which could be construed by some as “missing.” To me, the bass is of a sublime character and just right. The dual Vivid V6 adds in a bit to enhance what is there without overpowering the bass. Nicely done.
The conductor 3XP comes with the dual Vivid V6, which further cements my feeling as not only my favorite, but the overall sound (to me of course), with detail of a very high level, and a pitch-black background. That background lends itself to showing the cleanliness of sound I have come to expect and respect from the Vivid. The Conductor raises the bar what with the TOTL Sabre chipset. This to me is one of the finest iterations of the Sabre chip I have heard to date as well.
Installation is again done in under five minutes. A huge option when used as a stand-alone.
So…what happened? Using Tidal Premium through my MBP and first the Sendy Avia, I was met with visions of a small venue concert I attended with my Brother-in-law listening to the Tedeschi Trucks Band. I distinctly remember ordering Guinness a pint at a time, rotating with the local Boulevard Pale Ale in glasses. By concerts start time, we were the only ones allowed to use glasses, as the others were relegated to the ubiquitous Red Solo cups. Our waitress took very good care of us that night adding to the enjoyment of top-class music and passion deserving of Susan Tedeschi. A magical night topped by a hug from the waitress and a tip she wholly deserved. I mention this, for playing Tedeschi Trucks through the Fun/Vivid brought back those good memories. Small venue, excellent company, excellent beer, and incredible music. And if that is what our music can do for us, then it has served its purpose. And served it well.
Richer, fuller and mellower would be apt descriptors for what the Vivid brings to the table. And I do so love that sound. Detail remains excellent in this iteration. Sound stage is good. Slightly on the intimate side, but oh so nice. Susan’s voice rings like from the concert. Sitting at our bar table, right in front, with Tedeschi giving us props throughout the show. And we returned the favors with glass raised.
The Vivid provides not more power, no; but that richness, almost velvet-like sound, which can make an analytical song ooze with sensuousness. This can make a sterile song come to life, and dance across the page, not unlike the verbiage espoused here (hopefully). I must openly admit that the Fun by itself is good, but with the Vivid, the sound comes more in line with my tastes. I openly admit to liking the Sendy Aiva (even after hearing more expensive units, which mellowed my view a bit) and here the combination brings the sound I very much appreciate from the Aiva. Just a really good combination. The same can be said of the Verum Audio Verum 1 as well, which in itself provides a vibrant open sound, which many believe is at the top of its class.
Switching to the Cascade, the bass is superb. Almost toning down the overwhelming-ness, the package brings to light how good the Cascade can sound with a good amp. Yes, Tidal Premium and the MBP are not the best; but I still enjoy them both. Again, rich bass and sound emanate from the Cascade, moving me back yet again to the concert. A more mid-centric sound than the Aiva, the Cascade gives you a better feel for the sound package, as you most definitely feel centered about 10 people (the venue was small, and save for our raised table area was standing) back from stage, moving perfectly in time with the music and crowd. You glance around and all look, feel, envelope Tedeschi’s sensuous voice and guitar licks. They catch you looking and raise their Red Solo cup of adult beverage and you share the moment. Any How, epitomizes this sound wonderfully. I fully recommend a Tedeschi Trucks concert. You will not be disappointed with their musical variety and genre-crossing sound. A hip blues sound, with Grateful Dead thrown in along with the musicianship of Dave Matthews and Lyle Lovett. Yes, they have their own sound, but melding the above give you the idea.
And the Fun/Vivid represent that sound oh so well. I finish with Laugh About It, a spiritual song about not forgoing your chance. A fitting way to end the second part of this review. For you see, Burson took a chance with an amp line-up, which can span the spectrum of making your gaming set-up top notch, while pulling double duty as a very good affordable desktop amp. One, which will stay in my rotation for comparative purposes for a good long time. This is good stuff.
*Addendum with Conductor 3XP:
Luck surely shown my way what with the Conductor 3XP in house, and the OpAmps to roll. What has been stated above regarding the sound within the Fun and Play can almost be repeated verbatim for the Conductor. But with either letter on bold or italicized. What the Vivid does is raise an already excellent clean sound to near-crystalline heights. Again, when the verb crystalline is used, to me here is represents clarity, cleanliness and detail. Combine the three and you get what the musician wanted: about as close to what they recorded as possible. This may seem like hyperbole and overly wrought machinations of verbose verbiage; but it holds true and steady once you listen to the Conductor/Vivid combination. To think that you can get this kind of sound for the price asked is not necessarily a steal or bargain, but a deal that those in the know give you the nod for, much like that Jeremiah Johnson meme, which goes around. Respect.
So, there you have it. An overly convoluted mess of words, which tries to convey the character of the Classic, Basic and Vivid (single and dual) V6 OpAmps. As they state in their promotional material, the fun is indeed rolling Opamps, and they even carry other manufacturers wares on their site to sell. An excellent touch, which means their house engineers have played around with others Opamps, much like one would when tube rolling. Another fine option of which I have some in the works. But that is another story.
For now, I profusely thank Bhavneet and Burson for their emanant patience with this old, tired-eared “reviewer.” I am a fan of their wares and hold them in high regard on par with my more expensives when listening, much like that Tedeschi Trucks concert of yore. I raise a Fosters oilcan their direction in respect.